I had the same question posed to me twice in one day. That’s a great indication that a blog needs to be written.
When do I need a model or property release?
I read up on this a few years back while developing the first Caregiving CDROM training. We wanted to have photos of real seniors in the product. I looked through copyright information, trademark statutes, but could not find definitive information. Understand that anyone can sue you for anything, it’s just a question of whether there is a lawyer who will take the case and whether the plantiff will win the suit. I finally figured to contact a couple of photographers I knew. I developed a Model Release Form. I gave it to my contracted photojournalist, and we were in business.
Lucky for you, you don’t have to go through that trouble. You just have to read this blog. You’re welcome.
Deciding Whether You Need a Release
The best information on this (and simplest) is provided by the ASMP.org. Check their FAQ. The term for permission to take a picture of someone is “Model Release” –a signed statement from the subject of the photograph stating that he/she gives permission and releases any claim to the photo. The term for permission to take a picture of someone’s private residence is “Property Release.”
Anytime a person is recognizable in a photo (in the case of models) or the owner of the residence is known to others just from viewing the photo (in the case of property) you must consider getting a release signed. CONSIDER is the operative word. If you are not using the photo in advertisements AND you are not using the photo in a commercial purpose (making money), you do not need a signed release. Consider both broadly though. If you ever want to use the photo conceivably, get a signed release.
Also, if photos are taken in public areas (civic definition), like out on the street where there is no expectation of privacy, the photo can be owned by you (used for any purpose). The same rules apply as above, but the key legal question is expectation of privacy. Again, if you are going to use the photo in marketing as an enhancement or draw to your business, you will need a release no matter from where or in what space it is taken.
Creating a Model or Property Release Form
Creating a release form is similar to any informed consent document. You should list contact information, including name, address, and phone along with a signature line for the model or property owner and a witness–often you or your photographer. List the intended use and purposes you intend for the photo. Make the statement detailed indicating commercial purpose and current project. Also, include a statement of breadth like, “…other purposes of business enhancement including advertisement, marketing, and promotion.”
Include a brief statement of what the photo will NOT be used for. Many people are concerned that their likeness not be used to promote pornography (broadly defined including any sexual representation even for educational intent), pharmaceutical sales, lascivious, slanderous, or crude humor. If you have one of these purposes in mind, make that clear to the model.
Make sure you include the date of the document signature. Provide a copy to the model or property owner, and maintain a copy on file for as long as you have the photo. Best practice is to include the release in file alongside each photo or photo set.
You can find more information, as I should have realized years ago, by contacting photography trade associations. For this article, and to ensure MAWMedia Group-level Standards in my responses to the question, I checked American Society of Media Photographers.